Creative Collaborations to Address Funding Cuts

Can collaboration lead to new funding?

Can collaboration lead to new funding?


I love creating PD and curriculum to make learning rich, engaging, and powerful! I can talk about it all day! Along with the opportunity to do the work comes the need to fund it. We’ve been fortunate to have sufficient funds to keep Total Learning going for several years. Now the funding is harder, and so more time is spent planning and seeking.

Today I spoke to a prominent scholar at the CT State Department of Education. His programs support multicultural education, gender equity, and anti-bullying. These all overlap with and inform Total Learning’s philosophy and practice.

He told me it’s a terrible time to seek funding. SDE funding has been cut for several important programs, including a multicultural conference that drew 1800 attendees a year, a 3 day summer institute on bullying, and Title IX training.

A few thoughts:

  1. Funding for multicultural, equity and anti-bullying efforts are particularly needed now, as our world is rife with hatred and dogma, and interpersonal skills and understanding are so underdeveloped! Education without a moral compass is dangerous, but also ineffective. The social issues eventually lead to a weak learning environment where children sabotage learning.
  2. Those of us who are seeking funding for initiatives that make a difference must become advocates for and collaborators with others who are also doing good and related work. Through partnerships and collaborative efforts, we can construct systems that might be more likely to find the funding we need.
  3. We ask our students to learn more about others they do not know, because once you have learned about someone it is harder to objectify them. We need to do the same as educational leaders, so we understand where there are synergies. We may be stronger together than separately.

If we all are spending so much time finding fewer available funds, that means we also are spending less time creating the approaches that are needed to move education and society forward. Finding like-minded collaborators seems like a smart step.  I can start with my new colleague at the SDE!

Parent Engagement – Not one size fits all!


parents-self portrait

parent self portrait

I recently visited an amazing United Way Model Pre-K in Miami. Their goals for parents are to develop advocacy skills, so parents become active in their child’s education. They told me of their frustration that the parents often hit a brick wall when the children go to Kindergarten.

The parent/family component of Total Learning is essential for student success. We are working hard to establish parent/family support in several ways:

  • We work with the school team to assure that the parent and family voice is heard in the school, and that parent engagement is a priority.
  • A family worker is assigned to every 2 or 3 Total Learning classrooms. This individual makes home visits to every family and conducts an intake survey, through which level of risk is determined. When an area of risk is identified, the family worker collaborates with community resources who provide specific support. Our family workers have arranged for everything from socks and adult companionship for a child walking to school, to heating, rent, jobs, and English Language Learning! They are also in the classroom, interfacing with teachers to identify any emerging problems and nip them in the bud.
  • We collaborate with the family resource centers to provide culturally responsive educational workshops and other support for families, including Music Together infant and toddler classes that bring families joyfully into the school, and family events that bring the whole family into the school to build community and trust. Workshops for K-4 parents are a favorite time for many parents, but other times and events accommodate working parents. Sometimes a meal is provided to take that pressure off working families.
  • We work with teachers to engage parents in pro-child behaviors at home, including reading to and with the child, making space for homework, using positive language to increase pro-social behaviors, and setting expectations for respect and self control.
  • We encourage formal and informal parent education throughout the community, with children (museums, concerts, community events) and alone (English Language learning, developmental needs of young children, etc.)

Ideally, the action we take in school lead to parents who learn to advocate for their child, and know what their child is entitled to. When they know what the expectations are, and how they can proactively impact their child’s chances for success, we take steps to creating a community of learners with common goals, and have help to be sure our work results in success.

Attached are a recent document: 2014-44BCultureCountsFullReport, from the Alliance for Early Success; and a Total Learning Parent Guidelines handout for use at a parent meeting.

Share your strategies for parent engagement in comments here, or in Sharing What Works!

Video: Grade 4 CMM Linguistic Lesson

Maritsa Madias-Kalasz teaches in Dearborn, Michigan.  She is a music teacher who specializes in special needs students, including the population of her school who are low achieving and English Language Learners.  Maritsa is a master teacher who believes in teaching IN and THROUGH music at the same time.  She really understands that good music learning patterns the brain for all learning.  That teaching in one language builds neural pathways with other languages if the connection is made intentionally.

Maritsa send an e-mail that said, “CMM 4 linguistic lesson – great work!”  The students have created their own versions of body percussion patterns to go with a song.  They read and followed specific directions, working together and solving a specific problem.  Take a look by clicking the underlined words below.

Question:  Where on the website can you share this type of video?  Make sure its an mp4, and post it with a short description in Share What Works!

Masterful Content and Masterful Teachers

This topic has been sitting in my file for a week. What was I thinking???

Masterful content is determined by a group of teachers who ponder what the core of their curriculum will be – what do we want our students to know and be able to do by the end of the [lesson][day][unit][marking period][year]? This content includes concepts and skills from the core curriculum, which includes language arts (speaking, listening, reading, writing), mathematics, science, social studies/history, music, visual art, physical education/movement, and drama. Yes, these are ALL core curriculum. The content also includes overarching sets of skills, such as social-emotional, 21st century (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity/innovation).

Masterful teachers manage to blend and deliver these content components through

  • planning of meaningful instruction and tasks that build understanding by taking students from the known to the new by connecting the new content to students interests and lives;
  • creating circumstances for frequent, positive, engaging, and challenging interactions with students and between students so the child’s voice is heard; and
  • using authentic, performance assessments that indicate whether students understand and what they don’t understand.

Is the content you are teaching masterfully designed to provide your students with the understandings and skills they will need as a foundation for future school and life? Is your teaching of that content masterfully crafted to develop independent learners who not only learn, but can demonstrate and apply that learning? As you read the Total Learning lessons (lesson, videos, studio and additional resources), notice and explore the way they are constructed, and how many disciplines, concepts, and skills are interwoven in each lesson. Let the lessons and their structure be models for you as you become a masterful teacher. Then think about what happens when this ideal concept is applied in real classrooms. Share your story by commenting here.

The arts or the “core curriculum?”

First students learn IN the arts, then they can learn THROUGH the arts!

First students learn IN the arts, then they can learn THROUGH the arts!

First, this title contains a flawed question, because the arts ARE core curriculum as of ESEA. Music, art, dance and drama are ways of knowing, and are essential for our students to grow as whole human beings. For some of them, the arts will be a career. For many more, the arts will enrich their living, working, and participation in their community and society.

For those of us still working in a traditional school paradigm (most public schools and many charter, magnet and private schools), the answer is “both!” Most smart educators know that the arts are important to enrich the curriculum, and each of the arts provides a different delivery modality for content and skills. However, children can’t learn THROUGH a modality until they have skills IN that modality.

So start by teaching students the arts skills, then use them as a delivery system for other curricular content. The benefits are measured in happier students, deeper learning retained longer, and an engaging and motivating learning environment. Where do you start? Total Learning lessons and studios!

Total Learning Summer Camp – It Makes a Difference!

TL Summer Camp Overview and Research Findings

It was always a plan for Bridgeport’s Total Learning Initiative to have an extended year – an additional month of school.  Research told us that if the children were behind their more advantaged peers, they would need time to catch up!  ABCD received funding for a pilot this year.

It was only 18 days in July for 22 rising 3rd graders.  The air conditioning was broken, and it was summer!  And . . . it was Total Learning  Summer Camp from 12 noon to 3:30.

Why rising 3rd graders?  To reduce the dreaded summer slump – the loss of reading skill over the summer break.  With mastery tests in 3rd grade, this was the obvious choice for a pilot program.

Did it make a difference?  The report is attached so you can read for yourself!  It’s pretty exciting what can happen in 18 days!  And if you think about your school year in 18-or-so day chunks, how much could get done?

Most exciting for me was the attitude changes of almost every child.  By the end of July, they were asking if they could come for another month!  Kudos to Allison Logan for creating an exceptional plan, and Rosmarie Marquez and Diane Bolarinho for their support.

Unanswered questions:  Will the gains remain through August?  Will they make a difference in Grade 3?  Will the district notice the findings and plan a larger sample for next summer?  Let’s hope the answers are yes, yes and yes!  Stay tuned to find out!

Total Learning with CLASS!

We used to be SO frustrated that Total Learning’s success was measured only by test scores. Then our evaluators found CLASS: the Classroom Assessment Scoring System. CLASS provides evidence-based characteristics of effective teacher-student interactions and classroom structures. These interactions and structures lead to excellent instruction, and, yes, student achievement.
Since our evaluators are using the CLASS observation, it seems only fair to share the components of this tool with you.

Attached are a few items to review, and then let’s discuss them.  Schedule a videochat if you’d like!

  • The butterfly image is an overview of the correlation.
  • Below the butterfly is a link to an article:  CLASS-Total Learning Narrative that describes the correlation between the two.
  • Finally there are three charts, each with the descriptors for one CLASS domain. As you read through the INDICATORS, think, “What would someone see, hear and feel in my classroom?” As you read through the BEHAVIORAL MARKERS, find one or more that you’d like more information about.

Notice that these documents are confidential – just for us right now. If we like them, we’ll ask for permission to share them more widely.

CLASS-Total Learning Correlation


CLASS I - Emotional Support CLASS II - Classroom OrganizationCLASS III - Instructional Support

The Power of Our Words

Words Can Change your Brain, Psychology Today

The Power of Our Words, book

The Power of Our Words book

The Power of Our Words book

Everyone smiles in the same language. 
-Author Unknown

I can’t imagine a better resolution for the New Year than to re-commit to powerful, positive communication.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the tone of the words we use in Total Learning Digital to share with teachers or communicate with children, whether spoken or in print.
There are two resources that come to mind:
1. One book that we often share with teachers is The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn, by Paula Denton, EdD.
2. Today, in Exchange Every Day, was the following message: Anger Never Works (see below). There is a related blog in Psychology Today that I’m going to read. I’m also going to get the Words Can Change Your Brain book.
Click respond and tell how you use words positively in your teaching!

Anger Never Works January 6, 2014 (from Exchange Every Day)

In personal relationships, punishment — whether in the form of anger, criticism, or judgment — rarely works,” opines Andrew Newberg in Words Can Change Your Brain (New York: Plume Books, 2013). “But the brain seems to be hardwired when it comes to disappointment. If we don’t get what we want — even if what we want is unrealistic — the brain’s anger center gets stimulated….

 “The best solution to the cycle that we know is to interrupt the negativity by generating a thought that expresses compassion for yourself, the situation, and other people involved. The research is robust: if we deliberately send a kind thought to the person we perceive as having violated our personal space, we psychologically increase our sense of social connectedness and strengthen the neurological circuits of empathy and cooperation.”